Throughout the history of the sport, people have debated: Is wrestling a team or individual sport?
At its core, wrestling is an individual sport, says Bill Kilpack, head coach of the Mountain Top Wrestling Club of West Jordan, Utah. "It's one athlete against another on the mat, trying to get the other to do something he doesn't want to," he notes.
But the team concept is also important for another key element: training, development, and support.
"It's difficult to practice without another person there,” Kilpack points out. And he notes “the bonds formed on wrestling teams can resemble those formed by people who serve together in the armed forces.”
Though it is an individual sport for those six minutes you’re in a match, the team aspect can’t be overlooked, says Jason Bross, a longtime youth and high school wrestling coach from New York. "The rest of the time you need your teammates to improve on the mat and for psychological support, which is just as important," he says. "Even during the six minutes that you are out on the mat alone, your team lifts you."
To prove his point, Bross recalls a high school dual meet that he was coaching at a few years ago. The team outcome came down to the last match. His wrestler led by one point with a minute to go and was completely exhausted. "The fact that his team needed him to hold the lead is what carried him through for the win," says Bross.
Lou Rosselli, associate head coach for the 2015 NCAA Division I national champion Ohio State Buckeyes says wrestling is a combination of both. If all individuals do their job, then the team will win. But the team element is also crucial for another key reason, says Rosselli: promotion and growth of the sport.
When fans unite behind a team, like those who cheered the Buckeyes on to the first NCAA title in program history in March, it creates a social environment for fans to be a part of, creating excitement and growing interest in the sport, Rosselli says. "It’s important to promote the team aspect of wrestling because it improves the fan base and marketing of key matchups for any given dual meet," he explains. "The more education we give our fans about the highlighted matches, the more spectators the meet will attract."
And when a team wins more matches, especially high profile ones, it introduces more people to the sport and grows wrestling over the long run, Rosselli adds.
Kyle Snyder, a 2013 Junior World Champion, was a key member of that Ohio State national championship team, finishing as the national runner-up at 197 pounds. In early May, Snyder knocked off Olympic champion Jake Varner 2–1 to capture the U.S. Open freestyle title at 97 kg/213 pounds. To explain all his success, Snyder says he is a firm believer in the team aspect of wrestling, whether it be at Ohio State or with his training partners at USA Wrestling.
"I could never have achieved the things that I have done in this sport if it hadn't of been for my coaches and teammates," Snyder says. "They constantly challenge me to improve as a wrestler and I have looked for their guidance my whole career. Although I am the only one who steps out on the mat to compete, the other 95 percent of the time I'm wrestling is with my teammates."
Tim Flynn, who as head coach at Edinboro University led the Fighting Scots to a third-place finish at the 2015 NCAA Championships, says wrestling is a healthy mix of individual and team effort. "I think this makes it special and unique. Our guys want to win both as a team and as an individual,” Flynn says. But when a kid grows up wrestling, he doesn’t dream of being on an Olympic championship team, Flynn acknowledges. Instead, the dream of many youth wrestlers is to become a champion—whether at the high school, college, or Olympic level—as an individual.
Still, Flynn emphasizes the importance of the team aspect of the sport for other reasons: Creating lifelong memories off the mat. "The bigger factor, on top of the performance side, is the fun kids have together," Bross says. One father of a Cadet World team member recently told Bross that “the best thing about wrestling is being together in such a great atmosphere, and enjoying our sport as a collection of families."
Both as individuals and as team members.